Novel, affordable ways to acquire medical oxygen, ventilators, masks and other critically-needed COVID-19 supplies and services are among 20 Grand Challenges Canada innovations mobilizing to assist developing countries through the global pandemic.

In the past decade, the innovations received GCC support in several forms, including over $16 million provided by the Government of Canada, based on the criteria of “bold ideas with big impact” in global health.  These project now offer critical resources, ideas and solutions for low-resource countries struggling to meet an acute need for affordable, locally-sourced products and services, most urgently are:

• Medical oxygen, ventilators and related training

• Local manufacturing of personal protective equipment for health care workers

• Life-saving information for hard-to-reach populations

“Innovation in global health means provisioning low-resource areas with needed goods and services that are better, faster and cheaper. Such solutions take time to develop, scale up, and evaluate as they transition to scale.” with Canadian Government funding, we have supported a portfolio of solutions over the past 10 years that are particularly relevant to the developing world’s COVID-19 response. It is during times like these that the value of investment in innovation becomes most obvious.” Remarked GCC co-CEO Dr. Karlee Silver.

“Grand Challenges Canada is lending expertise and other support to the innovators as they focus on the pandemic, and several will receive additional funding as needed to help accelerate their response to COVID-19.  Many others among GCC’s 228 active innovation projects are working to mitigate the fallout of COVID-19 on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services disrupted by pandemic control measures,” We have been guided by local governments’ needs, with locally supplied medical oxygen topping the list — a resource in tragically short supply and high demand throughout much of the developing world.” Added Dr. Silver.

“To overcome the unprecedented global health challenges presented by COVID-19, the world needs innovation and ingenuity. Over the past 10 years, Canada’s funding for Grand Challenges Canada has helped hundreds of innovative ideas become a reality. Today, some of those very ideas are saving lives by helping people prevent and respond to COVID-19 and other health challenges in developing countries.” Says Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of International Development:

The innovators leading these 20 solutions are based in 11 countries — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Australia, Canada and the United States — and operate in low-resource areas throughout Africa and beyond, from the Amazon to the Himalayas.

With high risk populations (i.e. truckers and sex workers) in mind, North Star Alliance has created a network of semi-mobile “Blue Box” facilities — shipping containers re-purposed as health clinics situated along major transport routes in six sub-Saharan Africa countries. GCC-funded program includes multi-sectoral Crisis Response Teams to combat violence against sex workers, and an electronic medical records platform to follow and manage health data for highly-mobile, hard-to-track populations, and was already attracting attention of local governments for its ability to serve hard-to-reach populations.

North Star now serves a key role in minimizing COVID-19 transmission within high-risk demographics, supporting infection prevention and control and health education via the Blue Box facilities, while its cross-border electronic health records system may help monitor the health of frequent high-risk travelers.

A project by Hewa Tele Limited Kenya, delivers reliable, cost-effective, life-saving medical oxygen to health facilities in Kenya that have little or no access to it otherwise, operating production plants in partnership with governments and hospitals.  An associated NGO provides relevant training for healthcare staff.

Currently serving a population of 15 million with GCC support, Hewa Tele will now provide medical-grade oxygen to Nairobi’s COVID-19 isolation hospital, with a set of cylinders dedicated solely to that facility, and will gear up to meet the oxygen needs of a growing number of patients.  Its expansion plans include hiring additional staff to facilitate 24-hour coverage, leasing more distribution vehicles, adding new oxygen cylinders to its inventory, and training health care staff to administer oxygen safely.

Friendship Bangladesh’s model delivers comprehensive health care and education for isolated communities in northern and southern Bangladesh, with a strong focus, developed with GCC investment, on maternal, newborn and child health, and sexual and reproductive health. The system includes community medical aides, satellite clinics and hospital ships to reach people living in complex, remote environments — populations particularly vulnerable to a rapid spread of COVID-19.

Also, Healthy Entrepreneurs’ integrated, an end-to-end supply chain business involves a network of trained micro-entrepreneurs delivering affordable, reliable health products and services to rural women and children. Transitioning to scale with GCC support, the system offers soap, sanitizer, disinfectant, fever-reducing medications and other goods essential for containing COVID-19.  IT is operating in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and expanding into other African countries.

A telemedicine platform facilitated by the organization allows for remote triage, risk assessment and referrals for last mile populations / self-isolated homes.  It will also promote COVID-19-related knowledge and awareness, forbearing rumours and misinformation.

Karma Primary Healthcare Services facilitates access to reliable, affordable primary healthcare for the rural poor in four districts and two states in India. Over 100,000 people have been consulted at Karma’s nurse-assisted e-Doctor” clinics, offering medicine, and diagnostic services in addition to remote doctor consultations. The clinics help prevent and address illnesses and promote good health, covering a range of medical concerns, including reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services thanks to GCC support.

The service has been upgraded to help address COVID-19 by providing contact-less audio-video consultations and referrals; a phone helpline, and awareness campaigns, reducing the need for in-person engagement. This augments local government efforts and reduces the burden of healthcare facilities preparing for COVID-19 cases.

Through its Max Healthy Village Program, supported by a GCC investment, Max Foundation trains local NGOs to promote improved water, sanitation, nutrition and safe motherhood in rural communities in Bangladesh. Initial payments let NGOs adapt and implement interventions, incentivized by follow-on payments when results targets are met.

The Max Healthy Village program emphasizes accelerated water, sanitation and hand-washing efforts critical to a COVID-19 response, and, with its database of 400,000 mobile numbers for beneficiary households and community leaders, can facilitate quick dissemination of relevant, accurate health information to support behaviour change and decision-making in designated villages.

WaterSHED Cambodia’s “HappyTap Labobo” is the only commercial indoor / outdoor portable sink specifically designed for low-income settings, promoting hand washing — a critical tool in preventing COVID-19 contagion.  HappyTap is an affordable, attractive hand washing station for use by anyone, including children.  Produced in Vietnam and Bangladesh, it is available across Asia and expanding globally.

With GCC support, Ubongo locally produces culturally-relevant, multi-lingual, multimedia edutainment” and other learning resources for young children and caregivers in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. TV and radio shows deliver engaging stories, animations and songs that teach children early numeracy, language and literacy, motor development, socio-emotional learning and good health / well being, with complementary content and guidance for parents and caregivers to support home learning. 

In light of COVID-19-related school closures across Africa, Ubongo is freely offering its library of TV and radio content, as well as public service announcements and educational videos to support health and hygiene.



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